Yet again, I read something that I normally never would've thought of picking up on my own. I read Ken Grimwood's Replay for calico_reaction's January Dare Challenge. Every month, a book that Calico has already read and reviewed on her blog, that she also happened to love, is thrown to her readers and book club participants to read. In January, I've read A LOT of books that I normally never would've picked it had I not been prompted by these book clubs and challenges, and I've liked all the selections I've had to read so far, so I decided to take the plunge with this as well. Unsurprisingly, I really liked this book and glad I picked it up (for $3.00 at a used bookstore!)
This book is sci-fi, but it's "soft" sci-fi. There are no space-ships here or advanced technology. We just have the protagonist, Jeff Winston, who keeps dying on the same day and traveling back in time twenty-five years in the past to relive his life with all memories from his prior replays. It's never explained WHY Jeff keeps replaying twenty-five years of life over and over again, and the book doesn't suffer from this. Jeff and Pamela (another replayer who meets about halfway through the book) try to figure out why they keep replaying, but they never find the answer. I am so glad that Grimwood didn't try to explain this away; this is something you really just gotta take as is. At one point in the novel, Jeff and Pamela are given an explanation for what's happening to them and I was PISSED at said explanation. Thankfully, it turned out to be a red herring, which relieved me immensely.
As far as characters go, I was underwhelmed at first. Jeff's character came off as rather bland to me at first. Upon further reflection though, this choice in characterization made me sense to me. Grimwood plays a lot on wish fulfillment with this novel (I mean, getting to relive your life with knowledge of events to come? There's so much possibility there), so it only makes sense that Jeff would represent a kind of "everyman" thrown into this crazy situation. The book makes you think about what would YOU do if you had Jeff's chance? Besides, as the book moved on, I found Jeff became more distinct. There was nothing extraordinary about him, but like I said, I think that was the point; you're supposed to feel like you could be in Jeff's position. By the end of the novel, he felt very real to me.
Jeff and Pamela's love was very sweet. My heart broke a little when they started they're first replay after having met and Jeff finds Pamela only for her not to remember him. The catch to their replaying is that with every replay, they don't start exactly twenty-five years before; a gap starts occurring where they begin "replaying" later and later. Pamela's gap is wider than Jeff's, so she starts replaying a few years after he does. This gap gets wider and wider, and it's honestly heart-breaking to watch restart closer and closer to their actual deaths. Anyway, the romance was really nice and reminded me quite a bit of The Time Traveler's Wife actually.
The pacing the story was also pretty spot-on. You'd think that the story would get boring or tedious, what with Jeff replaying the same part of his life (more or less) over and over. Grimwood manages to keep things interesting by having Jeff replay his life different ways every time, and really, he seems to live the way any normal person would if they were given the chance he has (ie. becoming really rich through betting and investments.) Through his repeated lives, Jeff learns all kind of life-affirming lessons as well and the book has an overall message of living life that way YOU want.
Final Verdict: This review is a little scattered and not very focus, for which I apologize, it's just that there's so much to talk about with this book. It really is a nice little piece that infuses soft sci-fi and romance to create a life-affirming story. The pacing was great (which is great, because it could've been very easy for this book to be boring) and while the characters came off as a little flat for at first, they evolved into very real people. I definitely recommend picking this up.